WASHINGTON — Rod Blagojevich, the secretary of health and human services?
Apparently, the embattled Illinois governor thought it might be a good idea for him to be President-elect Barack Obama's point man for one of the most difficult, highest priority issues the incoming 44th president plans to tackle.
It came up in a conversation between Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett — who thought that the notion of any Cabinet post for Blagojevich was "ridiculous" — and Illinois union official Tom Balanoff, who also was very skeptical, according to the Obama team's review of contacts with the governor.
Federal prosecutors allege that Blagojevich talked about trying to secure a Cabinet appointment or an ambassadorship in return for naming a successor who was acceptable to Obama, who resigned his Senate seat last month.
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The four-page Obama report found no inappropriate contact between Obama and his staff and Blagojevich and his staff.
U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has said that Obama, who'd held the seat since January 2005, wasn't involved in the matter, and Obama has said he knew nothing about the schemes.
Jarrett was thought to be a contender for the job, but she took herself out of the running on Nov. 9. Five days later, Obama said she'd be a senior adviser in his White House.
On Nov. 7, the report said, Jarrett, then still a potential Senate contender, spoke with Balanoff, who heads the Services Employees International Union Illinois State Council.
Jarrett said she had "no contact or communication" with Blagojevich or his staff about the vacancy. Balanoff isn't a member of the governor's staff and "did not purport to speak for the governor on that occasion," the report says.
Balanoff said he'd talked to Blagojevich about naming Jarrett to Obama's Senate seat, according to Jarrett, and "told her that the governor had raised with him the question of whether the governor might be considered as a possible candidate to head up the Department of Health and Human Services in the new administration."
According to Jarrett, Balanoff told Blagojevich, "It would never happen."
Balanoff "did not suggest that the governor, in talking about HHS, was linking a position for himself in the Obama Cabinet to the selection of the president-elect's successor in the Senate," the review adds.
A Balanoff spokesman said he'd have no further comment at this time.
In a conference call Tuesday, Obama counsel and report author Greg Craig explained that Jarrett "thought it was ridiculous for the governor of Illinois to be talking about being appointed to Barack Obama's Cabinet at a time when he was under investigation."
Craig also made it clear that Jarrett didn't consider Balanoff a Blagojevich emissary. "She conceived of him as being a union official who had met with the governor," he said. "And this topic came up. But it was not presented to her as a quid pro quo.
Obama has nominated former Senate Democratic leader Thomas Daschle for the HHS job.
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